The Pianist – 2002
Director – Roman Polanski
Starring – Adrien Brody and Thomas Kretschmann
Starting out, The Pianist had a lot to go up against. Watching this film, I was constantly comparing it to Schindler’s List. For a while the two movies tracked together in terms of story. In each we are walked step by step through the lives and experiences of the Jewish people affected by the Nazi’s and the horrible events that came from Hitler’s “final solution”. There is a point of diversion between the two films though, where our main character Wladyslaw Szpilman is spared a trip to the concentration camps but is forced to live a torturous existence in and out of hiding in Warsaw, Poland. Where as Schindler’s List documented the horror and gritty realities of a whole group of people, The Pianist focuses on the guilt and pain, trials and tribulation suffered by one man. The film carefully shows the depths to which our main character was forced to go, and illustrates just how hideous these events really were. Without this crucial difference, the Pianist would have been a pale imitator of what Spielberg had already accomplished nearly a decade before.
The beginning of The Pianist didn’t have the weight or grittiness that I associate with that timeframe (granted, it’s mostly from old photographs, and newsreel footage). Everything was almost too sterile and clean. This could possibly be a reflection on the outlook of the main character and his family, after each new travesty commenting “…it can’t possibly get any worse…”. This sterility gave me false expectations of what was to come, not that I didn’t expect the Nazi’s to do horrible things, only that I didn’t know quite how bad the living conditions were to get.
Adrien Brody as the tortured Szpilman turns in his best performance, both to date, and since. Restrained and quiet, we see the atrocities play out on his face as much as we do on the screen. His transformation from healthy, bright-eyed musician into the bedraggled, jaundiced mess that he becomes before the end of the film is intense. If you were to look at images of both ends of the spectrum, there would be no way of knowing how he got from one end to the other. In a seemingly constant state of free fall, his character does what actors are trained to do from day one, and is constantly reacting to what happens around him.
The cinematographer, Pawal Edelman, utilizes the color of this world to great effect. The richness of the color is slowly being sapped out throughout the two and a half hour runtime, we don’t notice the change until one of the very last scenes where we go from a shot composed of grays and bleak browns to a shot of the setting sun with bright yellows and oranges, and rich green grass. It must have seemed quite similar to the survivors of the holocaust when it was finally over for them.
This film has a lot of power, and while it isn’t quite as much of a master work, or as revelatory as Schindler’s List was for me, it is definitely an important piece of film which documents an important piece of history.
” Don’t be fooled by the title, The Pianist is neither a musical nor a porn. ” – Ashley